It’s an alarming but true fact that, of the 2,900 acres of eelgrass in the Great Bay and Piscataqua River in 1996, more than 1,200 acres have disappeared. Without eelgrass, the bottom of the estuary and river will be a featureless mudflat – no longer the home to juvenile crabs, lobsters, and all manner of fish. Eelgrass provides oxygen, improves water quality, and anchors the sediment in place. The more exposed and unanchored the bottom is, the more sediment that ends up suspended in the water column – effectively reducing photosynthesis and thus reducing growth and furthering the loss of essential eelgrass beds.
But now there is even more reason to preserve and restore eelgrass beds: reducing the threats of climate change. A recent piece by Derrick Z. Jackson in the Boston Globe is a must read on this fascinating topic. As the article points out, seagrass ecosystems account for an incredible 50% of the ocean’s carbon storage. We all know forests store carbon, but did you know that one acre of seagrass can store the same amount of carbon as forty acres of forested land?
Unfortunately, the Great Bay estuary is not alone with respect to the problem of eelgrass loss. As the article describes, eelgrass worldwide is declining faster than coral reefs, to the tune of 20 football fields’ worth per day – and this figure only captures known eelgrass beds. We’ve always known we need to protect Great Bay’s eelgrass resources for the sake of the estuary. Now we know protecting this critical habitat can play a key role in tackling the threat of climate change.